in the ETIC
ETIC and Me
Instead—grabbing onto a loosely interpreted tenet from Cynthia Self—my use of the technology integrated classrooms attempts to benefit students at all phases of the writing process. I refuse to allow technology to drive composition, but I still believe technology helps students improve their writing. Because I’m an old fashioned writing process theorist still attached to hard copies, most of this is both self-evident and rather dull, but I’ll dutifully outline ways technology benefits my own composition instruction:
however, I have found the faculty computer and projector of most use in
composition, literature, pedagogy, and film classes. With handwriting
as illegible as mine, typing notes, instead of writing them on a board,
helps. But this kind of “note-taking” also allows me to provide
a record of class discussion—I type up (in brief) commentary, save
it, and then use it as a way to begin discussion on
later occasions. Having such a readable record can also help students
see what they have learned during the semester—a sort of record
of pre- and post- beliefs, ideas, thoughts (etc.) about the course focus.
I also like to integrate art into literature (and even film) classes—and
the Internet allows me to download and show images from museums all over
the world. Having student stations on hand, however, allows students to
practice the skills we model – via computer/projector, or some more
traditional technology like chalk.
This Week’s Assignment
Then something terrible began to happen. I couldn’t open my files. They were on the disk, but the word processor couldn’t open them. I ran a diagnostic program and discovered the file directory had been corrupted. A computer expert at the university told me the same thing and explained why the data couldn’t be salvaged without that directory. My stories would have been lost if I hadn’t made printed copies before saving.
Finally I worked out the problem. In those days computers were primitive. There was no hard drive, so every time a computer booted, the operating system had to be loaded into memory from a floppy disk. I stored my disks in a plastic box between the power cords for the CPU and the printer. The cords created a magnetic field that over time corrupted data on all the floppies, including the MS-DOS floppy. The corrupt operating system was destroying the file directories on my disks.
I felt some satisfaction at discovering what was wrong. Next time I would know better. Before long I was shopping for a newer and more advanced computer, one that would give me problems beyond my wildest imaginings. All of them had a solution, though, and each one taught me something.
This cycle of enthusiasm and frustration has repeated itself many times through my computing career, including my successes and failures in the ETIC. I’m excited by the possibilities of the Internet for communication and information gathering—not to mention the occasional game of online Scrabble. I can hardly wait until the new network in the ETIC is up and running. It won’t be perfect, but I expect to learn as much in there as my students.
am not a Luddite. I love my computers—I do all my writing on computers, I do a lot of editing of student essays on computers, I surf the net obsessively, I love email, and I buy a lot of crap online. I have a cable internet hook up so I can Download Things Faster—you know, Things. I’ve owned more computers now than I’ve had wives, and that’s getting to be something to say. I’m writing this amusing little essay on a computer now, and gee whiz, It Sure Is Easier to Write On a Computer, Isn’t It, Kids?
Big deal. I find the whole ETIC thing a crashing bore (crashing is the operative word here), and I have no interest in teaching a class in a room that has an acronym all its own. OK, so the ivy digging its tentacles into the outer walls of academe has been replaced by miles of cordage reaching inside the hallowed halls, binding us in jolly hyperspace, blah blah blah, fill in the postmodern blanks.
It’s certainly true that computers are fine tools, and it’s also true that the educated public has adapted to their use, and that computers will be here until the Apocalypse erases all the data from their little silicon heads, but computers don’t teach anyone how to write.
Writers teach people how to write. And frankly, I think a room full of monitors is nothing but a big distraction from that obvious fact. I also think the real reason Arts and Humanities types like to work with them so much is because we have a huge inferiority complex before the Hard Sciences—“Look at us, see, we can use these dandy boxes you guys made, see, I’m correcting a sentence on my monitor, and the student is all the way across the room!” You know those Hard Science guys (yes, mostly GUYS) are having a good chuckle about that one. “Dude, check this out, the English Dept. has a computer classroom!” Various unwashed guys in boxers and long hair fall to floor laughing. “They look at their students’ work on the monitor . . .in the same classroom!”
Well, the professor could always walk the ten feet to the student and see what she’s written on paper, but then that wouldn’t be High Tech, would it? If we have an ETIC, that justifies our existence, because we all know just teaching Writing doesn’t sound very glamorous, does it? But if we’re spending the public’s money on high-tech devices that fall apart in a few years, damn, we’re making Progress, especially according to all the Latest Research.
I don’t understand why the ETIC is even an issue. Of course it falls apart—it’s manufactured by the same system that makes our cars fall apart after a few years so we have to buy more. People, hello, it’s SUPPOSED to fall apart. And once you’re committed to it, you can’t back out, because that would be admitting Defeat. No, just get the Sacred Update. That’ll fix it. I know that Professor Hanlon thinks that if we all had Macs instead of PCs, everything would be Jim Dandy, but I’m only willing to believe they’d be Prettier, and, well, yes, maybe even Spiffier. I have sneaked a peek or two at his Mac laptop, nicknamed Skippy, and I must say the nickname does the electronic device justice.
But writing is about people. Nothing else really matters all that much; clay tablets work as well in a pinch if you need to write an epic poem. We use whatever tool is at hand, because we need to speak—the need to communicate clearly and beautifully is the issue, not the tool. Writing takes place in the human brain, not in some reified Hyperspace we imagine has some importance beyond mere convenience.
computers are pretty, hard phalluses we love to stare at day in and day
out, but they’ve got nothing to do with the essential contract.
The Conundrum of Mechanized Learning in the English Department
Arguably, the composition sequence, by teaching students to process information, relies more heavily upon technology than any other sequence in the humanities. Yet our use of technology in the English classroom rests upon a set of conditions which must be considered in any examination of the ETIC. EIU’s egalitarian approach to the cost of education creates difficulty in providing enough shoulders to comfortably bear the burden of mechanized learning. This difficulty is intensified, of course, by the budgetary problems which we are experiencing, but also by our commitment to quality teaching, which allows less time for inevitable technological malfunctions.
Until now, we have negotiated these complications using a combination
of cooperation, patience and determination. Now that the ETIC has been
rebuilt, we are confronted by the combination of opportunity and challenge
which accompanies all technological advance. Our educational philosophy,
of which our commitment to humanistic, egalitarian education is a part,
will allow us to continue unraveling the conundrum of the electronic composition
hile I have ample experience creating online course materials for distance education purposes, I’ve generally regarded computers in classrooms as little more than convenient storage/filing systems where students can easily keep a portfolio of their writing. This is a good thing in many ways, not the least of which is the ease with which students can revise work without starting from scratch. In 1001G I have occasionally used the Blair Handbook interactive exercises online, but most often I have simply shown the students how to use the web site and advised them to take advantage of it on their own – I prefer that my students interact with me, each other, and the readings for most of our classroom time. That said, I do understand the benefit of devoting some time to in-class writing activities, and I do look forward to discovering new ways to use the lab productively and creatively, once reliability issues are solved.
pparently Marty suggested to John that it might be fun to bait one of the Macintosh users in the department by getting me to comment on life in the ETIC, as if Agora gets a dime every time it forces a representative of some vanquished people to dance a jig for his conquerors. Whatever. But if they expect me to reward this cheap gambit with a diatribe about how awful PCs are—if they expect me to opine on the pointless and stupid right-click, or rehearse the old rant about how Bill Gates stole from Steve Jobs the three or four things that actually work well in Windows, or to ask, rhetorically, who would choose to spend their life dealing with memory management, interrupts, DMA channels, SYSTEM.INI files, or system freezes—I won’t do it.
The truth is I know Mac users can be evangelical, not to mention dorky. Dana’s even taken to mocking me by naming my powerbook “Skippy” (as in, “So how’s Skippy today?” or “Spend any quality time with Skippy lately?” I’ll tell you, it just stays funny no matter how many times I hear it). I’ve had students introduce themselves as fellow Mac users after seeing me tote Skippy to class, and I’ll confess I’ve lived to regret their friendliness after the sixth or seventh after-class confab about how great it is to use one’s iPod as an external hard drive, or about how like, lame it is that PC users don’t understand that it’s not megahertz alone that determines a CPU’s operating speed (eyeballs orbiting far back beyond the point necessary to communicate duh!), or how they’ve programmed Acrobat to operate by voice command. I remember the satisfaction I felt last Spring connecting Skippy to a printer that would not cooperate with Denise’s brand new Gateway, knowing as I did it would work perfectly without the need to load new software, whereas she had to scour the web for some obscure patch or driver. But it’s dorky that I felt satisfied.
So yes, working with PCs in the ETIC has claimed more of my time than my enthusiasm, but at some level I’ve learned to check my Apple-snobbishness and to like being made to use PCs once in a while, and not only because those virus-ridden calamities remind me how good I have it back in my world. For one thing, one learns an awful lot about directory structures working on a PC. Not to mention how to restart the machine. And most of our students use PCs, so I view this short time with them in their element as I imagine an anthropologist views her time amongst the denizens of a primitive culture. They say that after a long day tracking the raw and the cooked amongst the Amazonians, Levi-Strauss savored a cognac in his tent. Similarly for me, fifty minutes in the ETIC always makes me turn down the lights in my office so I can watch my keyboard with its ambient light sensors light up automatically. Did I mention I can use my iPod as an external hard drive?
Probably the biggest difference between Mac and PC users concerns aesthetics, which we have in surfeit and PC users have learned to live without. Macs are gorgeous things, while for the most part PCs have remained the same old box for the past fifteen years (though some clones emulate a bit of style by plagiarizing the contours of last year’s Mac—badly). Umberto Eco wrote in Harper’s a few years ago that the divide between Macs and PCs is akin to the divide between Catholics and Protestants: yes, in some sense PCs are more democratic (that is, cheaper), but one sacrifices much beauty in bringing Word to the laity.
So since they’ve clearly got what they wanted, go on and laugh, Marty and John. Enjoy your next all-nighter with Norton Anti-Virus. I’m not your pet monkey.